Swarthmore College’s anti-fossil fuel crowd demanded recently that three supposedly pro-oil trustees on the school’s board “recuse themselves from all future votes on divestment,” marking another twist in the war of words between the university and its activist student body.
Swarthmore Mountain Justice, the school’s divestment activists, argued in an editorial for the school’s newspaper, The Phoenix, “that the fossil fuel industry and investments in that industry have no place in a just and sustainable future.”
The group went on to state that February’s “record-setting global temperatures exceeded pre-industrial levels by 1.5 degrees Celsius for the first time,” should be taken seriously by the school’s administrators. “We cannot let the personal financial interests of board members continue to block meaningful action on the most important global issue of our generation.”
The group’s demands stem from an editorial its members wrote on Feb. 25 highlighting what they say is a handful of Swarthmore trustees supposedly deeply embedded in fossil fuel concerns.
Board member Harold Kalkstein founded an energy company campaigning for Arctic drilling and ending the oil export ban, according to a report the group made in January. Rhonda Cohen, the vice chair of the Board of Managers, manages a trust with $1 billion in fossil fuels; and Emeritus Samuel Hayes II, another board member, served two decades on the boards of several mutual funds holding ExxonMobil assets.
Mountain Justice claims these actions constitute a conflict of interest for a board that will likely be forced to consider future divestment issues.
President Valerie Smith, as well as Tom Spock, the board’s vice chair, responded with an editorial in the same newspaper, saying the links between a few individuals on the 37-member board and the fossil fuel industry do not represent a conflict of interest. They added that the links were tenuous.
They also reiterated their desire to fight the specter of so-called man-global warming, while at the same time making a profit from it’s fossil fuel investments that will benefit students. They chalked up the group’s assertions as merely “spurious” set of “distortions” and personal attacks.
Mountain Justice was formed in 2010 with the hopes of forcing Swarthmore to purge all ties to the oil industry. The campaign hit a snag in May 2015, when the school refused to sell off its oil and coal assets.
Feeling spurned by administrators rejections, Mountain Justice members crafted another discursive opinion piece on Thursday for the school’s newspaper, The Phoenix, essentially doubling down on the points made in their first piece.
In particular, the group is now demanding Smith, Spock, and the rest of the Board of Managers, jettison members of its board found guilty of apostasy against the lofty ideals of divestment.
Mountain Justice also noted in their follow-up piece that many institutions and universities have jumped on the fossil fuel divestment bandwagon.
The group referenced an often-cited claim that divestment commitments have surpassed the $3.4 trillion mark. Critics of the divestment campaign have been quick to point out that that number represents the total amount of assets held by institutions, not the amount of money divested.
The actual fossil fuel holdings of each of these entities, critics say, may actually small fraction of that $3.4 trillion total.
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